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23 October 2012
At a time when childhood obesity rates are on the rise, Deakin University research has found that parents prefer to play chauffeur than let their children walk or ride to school or around the local neighbourhood.
In a VicHealth funded study of 430 primary and 258 secondary school children and their parents, the researchers with Deakin’s Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition Research examined how often, and why, parents drove their child home from school and to local destinations within walking distance of home.
The results, published in the Journal of Transport Geography, show that a third of all the children, and in particular around half of the primary school children, were driven home from school. Most of the children were also accompanied by a parent on local trips and were almost always driven.
“Our findings demonstrate that parental chauffeuring is pervasive, particularly among primary schoolchildren,” said Deakin research fellow, Dr Alison Carver.
“Fear of their child being hit by a car and lack of trust in the local neighbourhood were the main reasons parents gave for preferring to drive their children.
“However it is ironic that 45 per cent of parents who drove their child home from school by car did so because of concerns about traffic, and yet in doing so, contributed to congestion on the roads and around the school gates.”
Almost half (47 per cent) of the parents reported that the distance between home and school was also a reason for driving their children home.
“Parents’ freedom of choice regarding which school their child attends has resulted in many children travelling longer distances to school, and not attending the school closest to home, when compared with previous generations, increasing the likelihood of parents driving them,” Dr Carver said.
The results of this study point to a need for improvements to infrastructure improve road safety and increase the levels of social trust within the community if parents are to allow their children to be more active in their neighbourhoods.
“Overall, parents in our study reported having greater freedom during their childhood, compared with their own children,” Dr Carver said.
“There is a need for interventions and programs to improve road safety, such as introducing traffic calming measures, and build social trust and community connectedness. Initiatives that promote walking and cycling on local streets may, in turn, promote social interaction on local streets.
“It may then be possible for children once again to experience their neighbourhoods on foot or by bicycle, rather than from the backseat of their parent’s car.”
Results at a glance:
Dr Alison Carver is supported by a National Heart Foundation Postdoctoral Research Fellowship.
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